Some people are born to lead.
You know them, you've met them. They're the reluctant, unsuspecting heroes in every "sky is falling / we're all gonna die unless we can find a natural-born-leader" movie that you've ever seen.
Luckily, for those of us not starring in the next Michael Bay explosion-fest, great leadership can also be learned.
This is good, because the ability to manage as a leader and carry your team through transition periods is vital to the ultimate success of your business.
At Fuze, we've been undergoing a few fairly important changes ourselves lately. (See here, and here, for example). And while changes such as these are often commonplace for any growing business, they are nevertheless important times in your company's lifespan, and can represent seismic moments for the people most affected by them - your employees.
That's why it's nothing short of imperative that you, as a leader, are capable of guiding your team through these sometimes hectic periods.
In my own career, I've had to lead in similar situations many times - both at large companies, and at smaller ones. And while there are plenty of things I've done well in these instances, there are certainly a few I wish I'd done better.
Ultimately, every business and situation will be different. But here are a few things I've picked up along the way.
Understand that in periods of change, your team will feel starved for information. And, since no one enjoys working blind, it isn't hard to see how this can cause a steep drop-off in the effectiveness of your employees during a time when they need to be at their best.
The solution? Talk to them. More than you think is necessary.
But first, a caveat:
Communication is key, but keep in mind that there is a balance which exists at any company. Over-communicating does not mean over-managing. You hired your employees because you trust them to be capable of doing good work on their own. Don't double-back on this right when they have a chance to prove it to you.
Still, it's crucial that you're transparent.
You can do this by having lots of town hall-style meetings. During these, you'll be able to gauge employee morale, and will get plenty of feedback from your workers on how they're reacting to the changes. On the other hand, your workers will benefit by getting a clearer picture of what your expectations are.
Have these meetings early and often.
In times like these, I often see managers wait far too long to bring their employees into the loop. When this happens, either what these managers expect to be done isn't accomplished in the right way, or worse, it doesn't get completed at all.
Over-communicating will allow you to avoid this scenario, and will lead to a better, happier, more productive work environment - something which is a rarity in transition periods.
Again, all the people that work for you - if you've hired the right way - should be great at what they do. Nevertheless, even for the most adept of hiring managers, it's often hard to gauge true character in one phone interview and one follow-up.
Meet with everyone on your team individually - preferably in a casual setting, though they should be aware you want to discuss business. In these meetings, ask them how they are handling the transition. What's going well for them? What would they do differently?
Doing this will serve two purposes.
First, the meetings will provide you a chance to identify the people on your team who you work best with - those who attack problems in the same way you do, or who aren't afraid to challenge your opinion with constructive insight.
Once you know who these leaders on your team are, it will be far easier to make decisions, especially during larger changes down the road.
Secondly, these types of personal meetings will benefit your team by making them feel safer and more involved in the transition - relieving some of the stress that comes in these moments.
For these reasons, I prefer this approach as opposed to the "mass broadcasting" of messages many managers lean on in chaotic periods. Simply put, I believe truly understanding the personal challenges of my employees allows me to run my team smoother.
Describe the Future
Always remember that change is a point in time. It happens, there is a reaction to it, and then it becomes the norm.
However, it is human nature to hate change. Thus, when decisions begin to be made based on change, people become afraid.
For this reason, it's always important to prepare your team by occasionally painting them a picture of the future for the business.
Do this by describing where the company roadmap leads. Tell them what changes to expect, and why you're making these changes. On an individual basis - if it's true, and it won't always be - tell them why they fit into the future of the company.
Of all the lessons I've learned as a manager, this step of preparation is perhaps the most important.
In a word, it is paramount that your core team has an understanding and optimism about where your company will be in the future. It's paramount because lots of people leave companies due to a fear of change.
However, losing these people - who go through these transitions with you - will mean losing the most valuable employees you'll ever have.
For, in the lifecycle of a business, these are the people who will become your most trusted colleagues and who will, in time, take on leadership roles of their own as your company moves forward with more changes in the future.